Health Literacy

Health literacy is the ability to get, understand and act on health information in daily life.  This is critical to good health – and consumer empowerment.

Health literacy is more than just being able to read, write and understand medical words.  It is about being able to:

  • Understand what is happening in your body.
  • Understand what a doctor or other health professional thinks will help, if something is wrong.
  • Know who to go to for help with your health.
  • Know where to find good information about health, illness and treatments that might help.
  • Give doctors and other health professionals the information they need to understand your problem and how to help you.
  • Ask questions about your health and make sure you understand the answers, even if that means asking them to explain it again.
  • Understand the medication you are taking, how to take it properly, and why you need it.
  • Manage appointments, tests or scans, how to prepare for them and why you need them.
  • Get to where the service is, find the building and work out which room to go to.
  • Make choices about your health care based on good information about what the possible risks (bad outcomes) and benefits (good outcomes) are, what the cost is.
  • Feeling comfortable to express your needs and preferences so that you get health care that is right for you.

HCCA’s role in Health Literacy

HCCA has more than forty years of experience in helping consumers access health care information.

Our Health Literacy Program helps consumers improve their knowledge of health issues and how to access the support, community and health services they need. As our health system gets more complex, it is even more important for consumers have access to information that consumers themselves have said they need.

We work to promote consumer participation in the health system and increase people’s ability to advocate for themselves and their family in health settings. This involves helping consumers to identify their own needs and goals so that they can interact more effectively with health professionals and be equal partners in their own care.

HCCA has identified achieving high levels of health literacy in the Canberra community as one of four key goals in the HCCA Strategic Plan 2021-2024.

We will do this by identifying health literacy needs in the ACT and working to address those needs. Health Literacy is a focus in all our activities, including the Consumer Representative Program, policy work, communications, the work of our Multicultural Liaison Officer, and our Advanced Care Planning program.

HCCA’s health literacy work is underpinned by the HCCA Health Literacy Position Statement – PDF  and the HCCA Health Promotion Framework.


Canberra Health Literacy website

The Canberra Health Literacy website is a central point for health literacy information, resources, and training for the ACT.  It has information and resources for consumers, and for people who work for health and community services. This includes information about:

  • what health literacy is,
  • practical tips and information for consumers to help get the most of out of your health care,
  • how health services can create health literate services and information, and
  • how health and community workers can support consumers who find their health literacy challenged in our health system.

The website is part of HCCA’s Community Health Literacy project (2019 to 2021), which is funded by the ACT Health Directorate.  You can find the website at:

The Community Health Literacy Project

This three year project (2019-2021) aims to help people in the ACT to get, understand and act on health information, supported by a health literate health system and workforce.

This project is supported by the ACT Health Directorate. We are:

  • Working with the ACT Health Directorate to finalise the first ACT Health Literacy Framework.
  • Coordinating the Canberra Health Literacy Network to provide education and development opportunities for professionals and volunteers working in health care and community services.
  • Providing health literacy training for staff and volunteers of community services.
  • Supporting the Canberra Health Literacy
  • Researching what helps people to look after their health when they have a long-term condition, and health literacy issues affecting culturally and linguistically diverse communities in the ACT.

The need for these initiatives was identified through research and consultation that HCCA undertook in 2019.

The project is overseen by a Steering Group that brings together consumer representatives, and representatives of:

  • The ACT Health Directorate
  • The ACT Office of Mental Health and Wellbeing
  • Calvary Public Hospital Bruce
  • Canberra Health Services
  • Capital Health Network
  • Carers ACT


The Community Health Literacy Steering Group, November 2019: Purity Goj, Karin Calford, Belinda Yates, Shelley McInnis, Sarah Spiller, Jessica Lamb, Kate Gorman, Anais le Gall, Emma Awizen

The Community Health Literacy Steering Group, November 2019: Purity Goj, Karin Calford, Belinda Yates, Shelley McInnis, Sarah Spiller, Jessica Lamb, Kate Gorman, Anais le Gall and Emma Awizen


There are opportunities for consumers to be involved in the project in different ways. If you would like to know more, please subscribe to HCCA’s newsletter Consumer Bites here, or contact Sarah Spiller on 02 6230 7800 or via [email protected]


Community Health Literacy in the ACT – Environmental Scan

In 2019 HCCA reviewed community health literacy strengths, barriers and existing initiatives in the ACT. It identified opportunities to strengthen the ACT’s response to health literacy. HCCA undertook the scan in 2019 with support from the ACT Health Directorate.

Read the summary of findings here.

Read the full report here.


Guide to Health Care Complaints in the ACT

HCCA is developing a Guide to Health Care Complaints in the ACT, as part of the Community Health Literacy Project. We are also working on a guide to mental health complaints in the ACT.

We welcome consumer advice and feedback on these documents. If you would like to get involved, please contact Geraldine or Sarah on 02 6230 7800 or [email protected].

Last updated: 13/7/2021